By Josh Brown
and Rob Kiser
TROY — Entering his first season as a head varsity high school softball coach, Scott Beeler has a few advantages.
Taking over a team that won a share of a division title last season certainly helps.
“It’s nice, coming in knowing I’ve got a solid program and team, it’s nice,” Beeler said. “But there’s also the expectation to keep it going. I love the city of Troy, have lived here for 25 years. I love the team and the program, and I want to see it succeed. When the job came open, I wanted to make sure someone got it that loved the program as much as I do.”
Beeler, an assistant with the Trojans under former coach Dan Cain last year, isn’t without coaching experience, having coached travel softball for a decade. He now takes over a Troy program that hasn’t had a head coach last for more than two seasons in its last three coaches — but has plenty of returning talent on the field to help in his goal to bring a level of consistency back to Troy.
“I think I’m the fourth coach in six years,” Beeler said. “I’m hoping to bring some stability and continue to build on what Dan and (former coach) Megan (Campbell) started. They put the foundation in place, and I appreciate everything that they’ve done. I’m just excited for the opportunity to continue what they started.”
The Trojans went 15-13 overall last season, but in Greater Western Ohio Conference North play they went 8-2, splitting the regular season series with both Greenville and Piqua to force a three-way tie for the division championship. Troy then went on to defeat Piqua in the rubber match in the postseason, only to fall in the next round to Northmont.
But the GWOC underwent changes in the offseason — particularly in Troy’s division. Now in the newly-formed American North division, the Trojans will face familiar foes in Piqua, Greenville, Sidney and Butler, but they will also now battle with county rival Tippecanoe after Trotwood’s move to the American South Division.
And though Troy lost a lot to graduation in the offseason, Beeler thinks the Trojans will continue to be a contender.
“I think we’re going to compete for another GWOC North championship,” Beeler said. “We’re young and we lost seven seniors from last year, and I think the other coaches may probably think we’re not going to be as good as last year. But we’ve got the talent up and down the lineup that we can make up for that production. Everyone in our lineup is going to be a tough out.”
Leading the way for the Trojans will be a pair of returners and captains, junior Savannah Nelson and senior Lauryn Rutan.
Nelson finished last season tied for the overall GWOC lead in RBIs with 46 and was tied for the GWOC North lead in home runs with six — with teammate and graduate Natalie Henson. Rutan added 20 RBIs and was tied for second in the North in home runs with four. Nelson, who played shortstop as a freshman and in left field last year, will be center this season, while Rutan will return to shortstop.
“We lose Natalie, but we return two of our top three hitters,” Beeler said. “Both of them were All-GWOC North last year. Savannah is a field general out in left. She likes to be that leader in the outfield, which is something Troy hasn’t had in a few years.”
Troy’s battery returns, as well, as Hallie Snyder was the team’s No. 2 pitcher behind Nelson last season, and catcher Kearston Riley will be back behind the plate. Senior Madison Potts will be back, hoping to make up for an injury-plagued season last year, and also returning for the Trojans is sophomore second baseman Josie Rohlfs, who had an outstanding freshman season.
“Josie had one error last year in 99 attempts at second base,” Beeler said. “She’s only a sophomore, and you don’t get that kind of talent from that young a player very often.”
Young talent is a key phrase with the Trojans this season, as competition at every other position continues to heat up leading into the season — and it may not even end with the season’s start.
“We have a lot of young talent coming up, with a load of it in the sophomore class and among the juniors, too,” Beeler said. “We have five outfielders, so four players are fighting for spots in right and left. We have three very talented freshmen, too, depending on how fast they pick up the speed of the game. They’re all going to help us continue to be good for the next two to three years, at least.
“It’s a dogfight right now. We’re just trying to determine who’s going to be playing where. First base, third base, right and left field, we have four positions, and eight girls that could potentially step in — and every one of them can contribute. We have 15 girls on the team, and every one of them could be a starter.”
And they’ll need to produce from the beginning of the season, with perennial power Greenville first up in division play early in April.
“We start out division play with Greenville, and that’s the team that everyone wants to beat in the GWOC North,” Beeler said. “But we’re ready for that challenge. We know we have to play solid ball and defense to make that happen, and we’ll need to put runs on the board, too. Nobody can take anything for granted in the GWOC.”
TIPP CITY — In his second year with the team, Tippecanoe coach Scott Sutton faces on of the biggest tests the Red Devils softball program has faced in recent memory.
The Devils will join the Greater Western Ohio Conference this season, joining Troy, Piqua, Greenville, Sidney and Butler in the newly-formed and sure to be extremely competitive American North Division. But with the returning talent Tippecanoe boasts this year, the Devils are looking to make a big splash.
“”It’s our first year in the GWOC, so of course, our goal is to win the GWOC North,” Sutton said. “That should be every team’s goal. We are playing many schools that we haven’t played in years — or ever — so it’s going to be interesting. It’s going to be fun.”
An all-senior battery of pitcher Sierra Sutton and power-hitting catcher Kaity Stocker will lead the Devils this year, as well as a senior-laden outfield of Meghan Kauffmann, Ashley Shepherd, Paytin Borders and Alyssa Hallauer, with junior Hailee Varvel adding more depth and experience there. Seniors Maddie Gibler and Taylor Yeager will anchor the infield, with junior Taylor Haggerty, sophomore Brooke Aselgae and freshmen Brooke Silcox and Kayla Runyon adding depth.
WEST MILTON — Milton-Union coach Curt Schaefer likes versatility.
And with the players he has this season, Schaefer see the potential to throw a lot of different looks at opponents — and the potential for a competitive season in the Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division.
Taylor Jacobs, Hannah Oaks and Bri Stone lead an experienced infield, with Kristen Dickison, Courtney Seevers and Katie Lehman patrolling the outfield, with Olivia Brown and Mercedes Farmer making up the battery.
“We should finish in the top of the league and hopefully have a strong run in the tournament,” Schaefer said. “This is a very rounded team, and we should be able to show a lot of different lineups.”
* Miami East
CASSTOWN — The Miami East Vikings struggled through a 4-17 season in coach Michaela Nenninger’s first season with the team last year, but with a roster packed with young and developing players, the future still looks bright.
Junior Emily Thimmes, sophomore Samantha Urban and freshman Paige Lawson will look to take over the pitching duties after the graduation of Megan Pettit, with Urban and senior Alyssa Francis also catching. Juniors Anna Jacomet and Thimmes, sophomore Allie Shore and freshmen Emily Adkins, Sophie Jacomet and Lawson will make up a young infield, while senior Emily Hawkins will lead an even younger outfield.
“I trust the girls will continue to grow and work hard as a team in order to make the season a successful one,” Nenninger said. “We have come a long way in the past two years. I’m excited to see where they take us. Our goal for the season is to take care of business, become smarter baserunners and batters and have fun.”
Mark Gibson returns for his season season as Newton coach.
The Indians’ pitchers will include junior Kristen Rappold and sophomore Erin Norman, while handling the catching duties will be juniors Haley Pack and Maddi Weaver.
The infielders will include juniors Kacie Tackett and Kylee Fisher and freshman Baily Chaney and Kara Chaney, while seeing time in the outfield will be juniors Britney Oburn, Weaver and Norman and freshman Brooke Deeter and Breanna Ends.
“Our goal is to follow the principles in our program each day — trust, relentless, integrity, be selfless, energy — and to be the best team on the field regardless of who is in the other dugout,” Gibson said. “We will focus on the process of each game, not the outcome of the season. Our belief is, if we do the things we can control correctly and to the best of our ability, the end result will take care of itself.”
PIQUA — Rick Claprood returns for his 15th season as Piqua softball coach.
Piqua finished 21-6 overall last year and shared the GWOC North title with an 8-2 mark.
The Indians return two four-year starters up the middle in shortstop Alyssa Jones and second baseman Lexi Gordon, as well as senior outfielder Kendra Forness, senior catcher Rayna Brownlee and senior first baseman Kelsie Hall.
“We return an experienced group of four varsity seasoned seniors,” Claprood said. “All play at a high caliber and are good leaders and appear ready to begin the season. Our goal is to always play hard and focus one game at a time in order to keep everything in balance.”
SIDNEY — Veteran coach Bill Booth returns for his 30th season as Lehman coach.
The Cavaliers were 12-11 last season, including 4-8 in the NWCC.
Graduating off that team was Allie Hall.
Returning letterwinners include seniors Camille Odle and Sidney Chapman, juniors Hailey Wick, Lauren Larger, Amanda Titterington, Maddy McFarland and Brogan McIver and sophomores Grace Brandt, Carly Edwards and Grace Monnin.
“My season’s goal is to improve on last year’s record and win a league championship,” Booth said.
He feels like the Cavaliers have the team to do just that.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.